Carbohydrate metabolism denotes the various biochemical processes responsible for the formation, breakdown and interconversion of carbohydrates in living organisms.
The most important carbohydrate is glucose, a simple sugar (monosaccharide) that is metabolized by nearly all known organisms. Glucose and other carbohydrates are part of a wide variety of metabolic pathways across species: plants synthesize carbohydrates from atmospheric gases by photosynthesis storing the absorbed energy internally, often in the form of starch or lipids. Plant components are eaten by animals and fungi, and used as fuel for cellular respiration. Oxidation of one gram of carbohydrate yields approximately 4 kcal of energy and from lipids about 9 kcal. Energy obtained from metabolism (e.g. oxidation of glucose) is usually stored temporarily within cells in the form of ATP. Organisms capable of aerobic respiration metabolize glucose and oxygen to release energy with carbon dioxide and water as byproducts.
Carbohydrates include complex and simple sugars. Simple sugars can be broken down directly in cells. Complex carbohydrates such as sucrose (a disaccharide, or a molecule containing two simple sugars) contain more than one simple sugar in a chain. They are broken down in the gut by specific enzymes that break the chain and release simple sugars. Starch is a polymer of glucose units and is broken down to glucose. Cellulose is a carbohydrate chain that cannot be digested by some animals. Some bacteria that produce enzymes for cellulose live inside the gut of some mammals such as cows, and when cows eat grass, the cellulose is broken down by the bacteria and some of it is released into the gut.
Carbohydrates are a superior short-term fuel for organisms because they are simpler to metabolize than fats or those amino acid portions of proteins that are used for fuel. In animals, the most important carbohydrate is glucose; the level of glucose is used as the main control for the central metabolic hormone, insulin. Starch, and cellulose in a few organisms (e.g., termites, ruminants, and some bacteria), both being glucose polymers, are disassembled during digestion and absorbed as glucose. Some simple carbohydrates have their own enzymatic oxidation pathways, as do only a few of the more complex carbohydrates. The disaccharide lactose, for instance, requires the enzyme lactase to be broken into its monosaccharides components; many animals lack this enzyme in adulthood.
Carbohydrates are typically stored as long polymers of glucose molecules with glycosidic bonds for structural support (e.g. chitin, cellulose) or for energy storage (e.g. glycogen, starch). However, the strong affinity of most carbohydrates for water makes storage of large quantities of carbohydrates inefficient due to the large molecular weight of the solvated water-carbohydrate complex. In most organisms, excess carbohydrates are regularly catabolised to form acetyl-CoA, which is a feed stock for the fatty acid synthesis pathway; fatty acids, triglycerides, and other lipids are commonly used for long-term energy storage. The hydrophobic character of lipids makes them a much more compact form of energy storage than hydrophilic carbohydrates. However, animals, including humans, lack the necessary enzymatic machinery and so do not synthesize glucose from lipids, though glycerol can be converted to glucose.
All carbohydrates share a general formula of approximately CnH2nOn; glucose is C6H12O6. Monosaccharides may be chemically bonded together to form disaccharides such as sucrose and longer polysaccharides such as starch and cellulose.
Famous quotes containing the word metabolism:
“Hes got a fifteen percent metabolism with an overactive thyroid and a glandular affectation of about three percent. With a one percent mentality. Hes what we designate as the Crummy Moronic type.”
—Robert Pirosh, U.S. screenwriter, George Seaton, George Oppenheimer, and Sam Wood. Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush (Groucho Marx)